I often find myself reflecting upon the fact that I meet so many nominal Christians; you know the sort I'm sure - they're the people who might have been baptised but have never 'done' church in any shape, size or form.
I also meet a number of Atheists and find that whilst some will say they are 'Agnostic' the majority merely state that they are 'Atheists' and it is in this that I can find much humour and even more for me to take comfort in. The reasons for this are not mocking any of the groups but are rational and real (so the skeptics, agnostics and atheists can take joy too!) so I know I'm a crowd-pleaser today! ;-)
1. Some I meet are 'proper' atheists in that they have denied God (or gods) and have studied and formed a deep and (in their mind) rational and yet closed system to support their views. Some are willing to dialogue on level playing fields and engage in two-way street stuff, but this is (rather sadly) the exception to the breed. They are not only atheists but are also people with no religion and no beliefs in anything but the material and absolute.
2. Other I meet claim to be atheists but this is actually nothing more than a 'catch all' label to collect up their 'there is no god' stance and if there were perhaps a little more informed, or perhaps a little less lazy, would declare themselves to be merely 'agnostic'. These are the nominal atheists who hold beliefs in an eternity and life after death (but with who and why and what for?) and cling to some of the stuff that supports (and demands) a deity; the people who are rather 'just confused' and living under a flag of convenience. Perhaps best called 'syncretic unbelievers'!
3. The third group are people who are unhappy at being labelled 'atheist'; they are merely people who don't believe in a god. These people take the (most un-atheist like) position of 'whatever floats your boat!' 'You want to believe in a Creator God? That's fine as long as you don't expect me to have to do it too! You want to believe that there's nothing? Then for you there probably is, but don't try to drag me into your ways of thinking either!' The feel as aggrieved by fundamentalism whether it be theist or atheist (there's a cartoon on the blog about that from last month
4. I do meet some who make up a fourth (minority) group and these are true agnostics - they don't believe and want to wear the 'agnostic' badge with the subtext - 'so talk to me - I'm open either way!'
Now the interesting thing for me is that every now and then a nominal Christian, someone who has never had a church affiliation or been a member or can even tell you the stories, talk about Jesus and the like, comes to faith as an 'Atheist'. The 'no god' community tend to parade these people and yet, upon the most cursory of discussions it become clear that they are like a friend of mine who joined a political party a few years back so that they could resign their membership to make a point. Loads of gesture and yet no substance. The don't have a convert, they merely have a new member!
And the good news for me is that when I find a 'proper Atheist' coming to faith I find someone who has read, dialogued (and yet rarely openly discussed) and made a firm and conscious decision to take up that stance, putting it all aside to embrace the concept (and then for them the reality too) of their being a God! Now this is what the other side of the debate claim for every nominal and yet for the ersatz atheists and many of the agnostics too, this is not a defection but a taking up of belief (and when it happens the other way - and it does do that - the same applies too).
The good news is that I find more 'full on' atheists being convinced in our direction that I do the other way round and those I do meet who have become non-theists have rarely been theists- they just happened to be born in the UK and were baptised (or often these days not) and wore the nominal badge because they weren't Islamic, or Hindu or any of the other faiths. The 'Christian' was like a string of garlic to protect from other gods and labels!
So take heart: The many 'no faith' types are merely waiting to hear the good news from the Church or waiting to be convinced by the New Atheists and their disciples. The invitation is made, the challenge for people hearts and minds // minds and hearts is before us.
Who you gonna call?
What you gonna do?
Who are you going to affirm of deny today?